98: Making Peace

98: Making Peace

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Making Peace

Change your thoughts and you change your world.

~Norman Vincent Peale

As soon as I turned the corner onto my street and glimpsed the ruddy brown shipping container with the three-letter word ZIM written in white capitals, I started to shake. It was a Thursday afternoon in mid-July, six weeks before our move date, and I wasn’t ready to watch the bulk of our belongings being loaded onto that forty-cubic-foot container bound for Israel. I wasn’t ready for our house to become an empty shell. Parking my car across the street, I sobbed while six burly men went in and out of our front door, laden with sofas and tables, boxes and beds. Finally, when I could no longer tolerate the oppressive New York heat, I got out of the car, walked down the driveway and entered the side door. My husband greeted me.

“Ça va?” he asked gently, opening his arms to hold me.

“No. I’m not okay. I know this is probably the happiest day of your life, but I can’t share it with you,” I said, crying into his chest.

Over the course of my life, I have made at least thirty trips to Israel. While I was there during my early twenties, I unexpectedly met and then married a Jewish Frenchman, Philippe, a new immigrant whose dream was to claim that country as his own. Even though I liked visiting, living there brought out the worst in me, making me act and react aggressively, whether I was changing lanes on the highway or waiting in line at the grocery store. But I fell hard for Philippe’s accent and worldliness, and for his ability to make me laugh. When, five years later, we left for Philippe to study abroad, we agreed to eventually return. A decade passed, and we stayed stateside, for me, because I didn’t want to raise my three children in a country where I didn’t feel comfortable. But when Philippe suggested a one-year sabbatical in Israel, I was interested, thinking that it would make mid-life more exciting.

In the spring of our year away, Philippe announced that he wanted to stay. I balked, ill prepared and unwilling to extend our time. He was furious that I was so close-minded, and I felt betrayed that he wasn’t sticking to our plan. We fought for months. Finally, I held out an olive branch: if he would agree to return to the U.S., I would consider coming back to Israel permanently after our eldest had graduated from high school.

But I didn’t really mean it. Secretly, I hoped that Philippe’s desire to move back to Israel would wane. When it didn’t, I knew I had to concede. I wanted to stay married to the man I loved. I agreed to go.

Initially, our plan to move back was all just talk — before bed, during date nights, in therapy. And then, as the time approached, I moved from denial to reality.

During our therapy sessions, when I cried about leaving, our therapist told me repeatedly, “You’re going to lose things — your friends, community, yoga students, house. You need to acknowledge the loss and let yourself mourn. Start now so it doesn’t hit you after you’ve gone.”

The first time I knew I had internalized her message was during my drive up Interstate 684 to yoga. I glanced at the trees. The colors of the leaves were so stunning — eggplant purple, fiery red, burnt orange — that I welled up with tears, trying to memorize their intensity, knowing I would no longer witness them every fall. I shared my sense of grief with my yoga students. With a shaky voice, I closed my eyes and described the colors. As time went on and each month passed, I began to acknowledge and accept my losses and all the lasts: snow days, yoga classes, writing group meetings.

Then, in early July, as our packing intensified, I fell apart. Philippe was away, and I needed a friend. By the time I arrived at Laurie’s house, my eyes were swollen and red.

“What’s wrong?” she asked as I wept.

“I don’t know if I can move. I’m so scared of the what-ifs.”

“Like what?”

“What if our kids hate it there and want to come back, but there’s nowhere for them to come back to? What if I’m miserable and want to leave? What if Philippe refuses to leave with me?”

“Stop!” Laurie pulled away to look me in the eyes. “I’ve known you for ten years, but I’ve never seen you like this before. Just stop, or you’ll make yourself sick.” The force of her words struck me. Strong and calm, Laurie had recently held herself and her family together for eighteen months while her husband was unemployed, only to be diagnosed with an autoimmune condition. I wholly believe in the mind-body connection; I feared the burdens she shouldered had made her ill.

“You can’t play those what-if games in your head. Let them go,” she said firmly. I wiped my eyes, listening to her every word. Unlike Laurie, I had a choice not to stress and obsess about difficulties that might or might not arise in the future. I had moved — counties, countries and continents — more than anyone I knew. Each time I had found my way. That wasn’t the last time I wept for what I was losing, but it was the last time I let myself be swallowed by fear. I knew that Philippe and I, together, would determine the best place to live, as we had for the past twenty years.

Then, shortly before our departure date, I called Verizon to disconnect our Internet. When the woman tried to tell me their services were available elsewhere, I told her we were moving abroad.

“That’s so brave! It’s great to live in a different country with kids, to see everything through another lens.” Those were the exact reasons we had decided to spend that sabbatical year in Israel. I appreciated the reminder and thanked her.

All along, our friends and family and community had been telling us how much they admired our ability to pick up and move and adapt to other cultures, but I was finally ready to hear it.

We have been in our new Israeli home for six months now. In that short time, I have found a friend with whom I go to the movies on Saturday mornings, opened up my own yoga studio and joined a writing group.

Friends who knew about my struggle with the move call and e-mail, asking the same question, “Are you happy?” Happy isn’t the answer, I say. Rather, I am calm inside; I don’t second guess myself, blame Philippe or play the what-if game. I have chosen instead to be content, to accept my life as it is.

Bolstered by everybody’s words of support, I have come again to this extraordinary country with my eyes wide open, determined to see the bad and the good. This time, I packed everything I knew I needed to bring — wrap sunglasses, SPF 60+ sunscreen, a Nook — along with the things I’d never brought to Israel before: a sense of humor and an open heart.

~Jennifer Lang

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